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City of Devils

City of Devils

The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai

Paul French

Picador

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By the New York Times bestselling author of Midnight in Peking—winner of both the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime and the CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction—comes rags-to-riches tale of two self-made men set against a backdrop of crime and vice in the sprawling badlands of Shanghai.

Shanghai, 1930s; it was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could beforgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, and fortunes made—and lost.

“Lucky” Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex–U.S. Navy boxing champion,he escaped from prison and rose to become the Slots King of Shanghai. “Dapper” Joe Farren—a Jewishboy who ed Vienna’s ghetto—ruled the nightclubs. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld’s.

In 1940, Lucky Jack and Dapper Joe bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all aroundthe Solitary Island was poverty, starvation, and war. They thought they ruled Shanghai, but the cityhad other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction leftin their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting momenteven the wildest dreams could come true.

INTRODUCTION


Shanghai was a prize won after victory in an opium war, a war waged by Great Britain to open China to a drug that caused pain, waste, and death in the Middle Kingdom while enriching the western nations. The foreigners...

Praise for City of Devils

An Amazon "Best of the Month" in History

Summer reading pick by the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Newsweek, Bookish, and Bloomberg

A Vulture, BBC.com, CrimeReads, and Criminal Element Pick of the Month

“Few writers are more expert at mingling crime narrative and social history, journalistic precision and novelistic sweep, than Paul French. His books paint times and places so beguiling and tell stories so vivid and harrowing that, within pages, we’re utterly in their dark thrall. If you love Richard Lloyd Parry and David Grann, don’t miss City of Devils.”
Megan Abbott, Edgar award-winning author of You Will Know Me and Give Me Your Hand

“An engaging and salacious tale of the Shanghai underworld.”
CrimeReads.com, “The Most Anticipated Crime, Mystery, and Thriller Titles of 2018”

“Historical true crime that transports you back to the decadence and deranged beauty of 1930s Shanghai—a place that rivaled Prohibition Chicago for colorful miscreants and bruisers, including an ex-Navy boxer who became the Slot King of Shanghai.” —Newsweek, "Best 50 Books of 2018 (so far)"

“Nothing lasts forever: In 1930s Shanghai, the no-holds-barred gangster scene was run by an American ex-Navyman and a Jewish man who’d fled Vienna. Their milieu — and its end — comes alive.”—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

“Move over Weimar: Paul French’s City of Devils, a history of glam and seedy interwar Shanghai’s refugees and criminals, is n… More…


An Amazon "Best of the Month" in History

Summer reading pick by the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Newsweek, Bookish, and Bloomberg

A Vulture, BBC.com, CrimeReads, and Criminal Element Pick of the Month

“Few writers are more expert at mingling crime narrative and social history, journalistic precision and novelistic sweep, than Paul French. His books paint times and places so beguiling and tell stories so vivid and harrowing that, within pages, we’re utterly in their dark thrall. If you love Richard Lloyd Parry and David Grann, don’t miss City of Devils.”
Megan Abbott, Edgar award-winning author of You Will Know Me and Give Me Your Hand

“An engaging and salacious tale of the Shanghai underworld.”
CrimeReads.com, “The Most Anticipated Crime, Mystery, and Thriller Titles of 2018”

“Historical true crime that transports you back to the decadence and deranged beauty of 1930s Shanghai—a place that rivaled Prohibition Chicago for colorful miscreants and bruisers, including an ex-Navy boxer who became the Slot King of Shanghai.” —Newsweek, "Best 50 Books of 2018 (so far)"

“Nothing lasts forever: In 1930s Shanghai, the no-holds-barred gangster scene was run by an American ex-Navyman and a Jewish man who’d fled Vienna. Their milieu — and its end — comes alive.”—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

“Move over Weimar: Paul French’s City of Devils, a history of glam and seedy interwar Shanghai’s refugees and criminals, is nostalgic noir at its best.”—New York Magazine

"Shanghai...in Mr. French...has its champion storyteller....Mr. French's shanghai-noir telling...echoes Dashiell Hammett and James Ellroy." --The Economist

“Drugs, gambling, vice, and banditry power China’s seaport mecca in this rollicking true crime saga…. In French’s wonderfully atmospheric portrait, Shanghai is a tapestry of grungy dive bars, swanky nightspots, drunken soldiers, brazen showgirls, Chinese gangsters, corrupt cops, and schemers like “Evil Evelyn,” a madam who enticed wealthy wives with gigolos and blackmailed them with the resulting photos…. French’s two-fisted prose…makes this deep noir history unforgettable.”
Publishers Weekly *STARRED REVIEW*

“Fast-paced, plot-twisty... In addition to this suspenseful yarn, the author paints a striking portrait of a Shanghai on the eve of Japanese occupation…. A Casablanca without heroes and just the thing for those who like their crime stories the darkest shade of noir.”—Kirkus *STARRED REVIEW*

"City of Devils is classified as “literary non-fiction," which basically means that it’s a well-told, well-written historical narrative. Set in a nearly lawless Shanghai in the 1930s, the book follows two self-made men (“Lucky Jack” Riley, the slots king of Shanghai, and “Dapper Joe” Farren, the ringleader of a series of nightclubs) as they rise, then fall, in a true-crime noir set in a debauched city on the eve of its own downfall." —James Tarmy, Bloomberg

“City of Devils is more than just Jack and Joe’s stories. It’s the story of old Shanghai. It’s the story of racial and class divides. It’s the story of a city between world wars and the fall of the “Paris of the Orient” during the second. And it features a cast of dozens, all brought back to life with vivid detail and panache by Paul French . . .The amount of research that went into City of Devils is staggering—and yet French’s prose is never dry. He has a singular knack for infusing hot, beating blood into men and women long dead, throwing us back into the wild and raucous parties of Shanghai’s Badlands. This reads like an adventure novel rather than the meticulous result of years of scholastic digging. From the very introduction, you’ll be hooked. I honestly can’t remember the last time a work of nonfiction was so compelling and readable; I devoured half of the book before I came up for air.”—Criminal Element

"A true tale that reads like Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum should have starred in the film adaptation...I enjoyed City Of Devils tremendously, as a piece of history come to vivid life, and as a meditation on hubris, overreach and how some people’s innate craving for adventure can lead to disaster. —Los Angeles Review of Books, China Channel

For readers who can’t get enough fast-paced true crime books, City of Devils by Paul French is unquestionably the right book to pick up this summer.”—Bookish

"With the narrative rhythm of classic noir and the polyglot slang of 1930s Shanghai, French, winner of an Edgar and a Gold Dagger for his true-crime best-seller Midnight in Peking (2012), tells a fast-paced, page-turning yarn about the rise and fall of two of the city’s crime kings.... This gripping history is interspersed with gossip-rag excerpts and swirling rumors as the tension mounts, Shanghai’s complicated international politics intensify, and the war begins."—Booklist

“French combines the skills of a scholar with the soul of Dashiell Hammett.”—Boris Kachka, Vulture.com, 7 Books You Should Read This July

"City of Devils is an astonishing achievement, magically transporting the reader back to Old Shanghai, then sweeping us through its streets and its bars in a gripping, breakneck ultra-noir narrative reminiscent of vintage Ellroy."—David Peace, Author of Tokyo Year Zero

"A brilliant neo-noir about the rise and fall of two refugee outlaws at the end of Shanghai's golden age in the 1930's. Not since JG Ballard's Empire of the Sun have I read a book that has so captured the decadence, pulchritude and madness of the "Paris of the Orient"...French's prose is economical, razor sharp and lyrical...If you're interested in Shanghai, World War Two in the east, I cannot recommend City of Devils highly enough."—Adrian McKinty, Award-winning author of the Detective Sean Duffy Series

"To understand the “surrealist city,” as present-day Shanghai is enigmatically called, Paul French’s City of Devils is an absolute must. A solid, ground-breaking historical true-crime narrative, it is written with such vivid, well-researched details and totally captured me—a native Shanghainese—as if in a time capsule of the heretofore-unknown past passions and pathos of the city."—Qiu Xiaolong, Award-winning author of Inspector Chen series

"Few epochs stir up quite so much intrigue, mystery, and glamor as Shanghai in the 1930s: a divided city, a bustling port, a crossroads for the world, and a kind of frontier outpost where the citizens largely made up their own laws....City of Devils represents the very best of historical true crime: learned, gritty, and raucous." --CrimeReads.com

“A vivid and well-researched account of a gaudy, wild and cosmopolitan place as it hurtles towards its ultimate and violent demise.” —Financial Times *critics pick*

“A story with the dark resonance of James Ellroy’s novel “L.A. Confidential” and the seedy glamour of Alan Furst’s between-the-wars mysteries...Reader advisory: By the time you are done with this extraordinary book, you will believe in devils, too.”—Mary Ann Gwinn, Newsday

“Reads like a compelling noir novel…Spoiler: no one here comes to a good end, but the intrigue and drama is so outrageous that you won't miss the happy ending. City of Devils could inspire a great modern noir film, one directed by John Woo and starring Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale.”—Military.com

"Astonishing...meticulously researched...French takes you deep into those Badlands, grips you by the throat and doesn’t let go."—BookReporter

"Brings interwar Shanghai to life in a gritty work of narrative non-fiction...a vivid picture of the city's nightlife and criminal underworld...it is a fascinating tale of a city on the edge." --Post Magazine (UK)

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Reviews from Goodreads

Paul French

PAUL FRENCH was born in London, educated there and in Glasgow, and has lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. His book Midnight in Peking was a New York Times Bestseller, a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, and will be made into an international mini-series by Kudos Film and Television, the UK creators of Broadchurch and Life on Mars.

image of Paul Frencho
Sue Anne Tay

Meet the Author

July 9-20, 2018

Meet Paul French as he reads from his new book City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underworld of Old Shanghai.

READ THE FULL EXCERPT →

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